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Heart Disease Health Center

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Your Arterial Lifeline

Are you at risk for hidden complications of atherosclerosis?

Diseases Caused by Atherosclerosis: Beyond the Heart continued...

Blockages to both kidneys' arteries can also cause blood pressure to go sky-high, in a condition called renal artery stenosis.

"Atherosclerosis in the renal arteries can be important and is most likely underdiagnosed," says Silverman. "When these vessels are also pounded by high blood pressure, the effects of atherosclerosis are compounded."

Your Eyes

Tiny arteries carry blood to the nerves of the eye. If an atherosclerotic plaque breaks off and blocks the central retinal artery, an "eye stroke" results, causing blindness in one eye.

Your Sex Organs

Men need strong blood flow into the penis to get and maintain firm erections. Arteries in the penis can get damaged by atherosclerosis, too, and can't deliver the necessary blood flow. Erectile dysfunction can result.

It's a common problem: up to 39% of 40-year-old men report some degree of erectile dysfunction, and two-thirds of men over 70 have significant symptoms. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction.

Your Digestive System

Atherosclerosis can narrow the arteries that supply blood to the intestines. The result can be mesenteric ischemia: belly pain after eating, when the body tries to ramp up blood supply to the gut, but can't.

"Mesenteric ischemia is actually quite uncommon, although it can occasionally be mistaken for indigestion," according to Silverman.

Your Aorta

The aorta is the main pipeline of blood from the heart to the body. A swollen, weak patch of this muscular artery is called an aortic aneurysm. These aneurysms frequently form in the abdominal aorta. Atherosclerosis is often present in these dangerous outpouchings, which can rupture and cause life-threatening bleeding.

Of course, there are also the "big three" complications of atherosclerosis, caused by blockages in the heart, brain, or legs:

Together, these diseases are responsible for the vast majority of atherosclerosis complications.

Your Heart

The coronary arteries run along the surface of the heart, delivering vital blood flow. Atherosclerotic plaques can slowly choke them off, resulting in coronary artery disease.

The most common symptom of coronary artery disease? According to Silverman, it's having no symptoms at all. Some people will experience angina (chest discomfort, often with exertion).

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